Date of this Version
Documentary Editing, Volume 14, Number 3, September 1992
ISSN 2476-1796 (electronic); ISSN 2167-1451 (print)
This world comes to life in this useful new volume edited by John Cooley, a professor of English at Western Michigan University. Cooley learned of the Aquarium Club through letters in the possession of his second cousin, Marjorie Breckenridge, an M.A., and his ensuing fascination led him to the Mark Twain Papers at the University of California, Berkeley, and to other significant Twain collections around the country in such repositories as New York Public Library, Columbia University Library, Huntington Library, and Yale University Library. The resulting compilation of approximately three hundred entries represents "nearly every known written communication between Samuel Clemens and the young women who constituted his Aquarium Club, including letters, telegrams, personal notes, cards, and inscriptions" (xi). The editor also includes pertinent material on the angelfish from notebooks and autobiographical dictations. This book is an important addition to recent biographical studies that deal with Clemens's turbulent last decade. While the author's preoccupation with schoolgirls has been well documented, its biographical significance is still open to debate.! The orthodox view, first promulgated by authorized biographer Albert Bigelow Paine, is that the zealous pursuit of little girls by Clemens was 'Just another of the harmless and happy diversions of his gentler side." In My Father Mark Twain, Clara Clemens dodged the subject by writing that her father "loved almost all children and had a charming way with them that quickly won their affection in return .... This feeling increased as he grew older." Later biographers followed this lead, explaining Clemens's interest in young girls as the means by which the aging author sought to recapture his youth or relieve the grief he felt from the death of his daughter Susy in 1896. John DeLancey Ferguson put it this way in Mark Twain: Man and Legend: "In his increasing loneliness he found the greatest happiness in the company of children, little girls for choice." Edward Wagenknecht offered this explanation in Mark Twain: The Man and His Work: "But after his own girls had grown up or died, he turned to other little girls for solace, as if through them he wished to recapture the past." None of these discussions dealt with even the implicit sexuality of such relationships.